Although the COVID-19 situation has had an impact on businesses in all sectors in Ireland, the traditional retail sector has been hit especially hard, experiencing a double blow: of changes in consumer behaviour, and by the economic impact of lockdown, which has caused shoppers to tighten their belts.
In response, many businesses have sought to increase the amount of business they're able to secure online.
Existing retail models must be revisited if the sector is to weather the storm. However, there are seeds of opportunity and growth for those businesses that are able to adapt rapidly to the new trading environment and differentiate themselves from their peers.
Various supports are being offered by the Irish Government to specifically help businesses to enhance their online presence, with one key example being the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme.
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COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme
The €5m funding scheme is administered by Enterprise Ireland for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. It was launched on August 31 and will close on September 28.
It will provide successful applicants with support to enhance the capacity and competitiveness of their online sales offering, to internationalise their web presence, and to create and sustain new jobs in Ireland.
The scheme will reimburse applicant companies 80% of their investments, with between €10,000 and €40,000 in funding available. These projects should involve research, strategy development and implementation.
The initiative is intended to help businesses analyse their existing web presence, target audience, brand identity and marketing, to identify opportunities for improvement. From this, businesses can then develop a strategy, including a multi-channel selling and marketing campaign, and implement changes to improve online visibility and better target their product offerings, while bringing their back-end systems up to speed.
Costs that are eligible under the scheme can include salary payments for a designated 'champion' for the project within the firm (up to a maximum of €1,000 per week, for up to 25 weeks), fee payments for an external consultant to work with the business on developing a digital strategy or improving the firm's existing online presence, and in-house training to help develop and maintain the digital offering.
Expenses that are not eligible for reimbursement include planned or 'day to day' updates to websites and social media, hardware purchases, standard software licensing purchases, the funding of ordinary online advertising campaigns, offline marketing materials, and standard training cost expenses.
There are a number of eligibility criteria and restrictions. The main criteria include that a company must be Irish-incorporated, registered with the Companies Registration Office, and have employed at least 10 full-time employees on or before 29 February 2020. In addition, the firm must have an existing online presence and must principally transact with individual consumers (B2C).
To be eligible, a business must, among other things, commit to significantly enhancing its online presence and must not have received other EU or state funding for the project. A number of industry sectors are excluded, including: financial services providers or professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, medical professionals, hairdressers, beauty therapists, vehicle dealers, wholesalers and resellers; business to business (B2B) service providers; car and vehicle dealerships; franchisees (specific exceptions apply); gaming firms; tobacco and cannabis service providers; hospitality and leisure service providers; and those involved in the agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries industries.
How to Apply
Applications should be made via the Enterprise Ireland Online Application System by 3pm on 28 September, and should be accompanied by the applicant firm's latest statutory accounts, which must be less than two years old.
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